I just received a postcard in the mail seeking participants for a study on facial actinic keratosis. The postcard pointed out that these red, scaly lesions are more often found in older adults. So you can add that condition to the list of skin changes that we can anticipate as we age and go through menopause. Geez!
Most people think of menopause in relation to the end of menstrual periods, but the skin also ends up going through a major transition during this time. Dr. Diana Howard of The International Dermal Institute says these changes in skin happen because of menopausal changes in estrogen and progesterone production, as well as lower B-Estradiol levels caused by decreased function of the ovaries. She describes numerous skin changes that women may see as we go through menopause. For instance, I have noticed that I have really dry skin now. Other skin changes can include oily skin, adult acne, facial hair, sagging skin and wrinkles caused by the redistribution of fat deposits, age spots, elastosis (lack of skin resiliency), thinning skin and an increase in the chance of sun damage.
That last item brings me to actinic keratosis. The Skin Cancer Foundation points out that these lesions are more commonly found in adults over the age of 50 and that almost everyone over the age of 80 will have some of these skin lesions. In almost all cases, these lesions are the result of chronic sun exposure.
The good news is these lesions aren't automatically equated with skin cancer; however, they are the most common precancerous lesions. Therefore, it’s important to see a doctor regularly to determine if any lesions you develop are cancerous. This process can include a biopsy, in which the top of the keratosis is removed and then analyzed.
You can lower your risk of developing these skin lesions by following these steps:
- Don’t use tanning booths.
- Avoid being outside in an unshaded area during the day. The Skin Foundation Cancer especially warns against sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15 daily.
- If you’re going to be participating in an outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
- Be sure to take proper precautions when it’s cloudy outside. Your skin can still experience sun damage on a cloudy day.
- Take precautions to avoid burning. These precautions can include wearing long sleeves and pants, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and using UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Avoid reflective surfaces such as sand, water and glass, which can lead to additional exposure because they reflect the sun’s rays back at you.
- Do a self-examination of your whole body on a monthly basis to locate any changes in your skin.
- Have your health care provider do an annual evaluation of your skin.
Caring for Skin as You Age
With all of the potential skin changes that come with menoapuse, it’s really important to be thoughtful about caring for your body's largest organ. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve noticed that my own skin has gotten drier and prone to rashes once I hit my 50s. To counteract these changes, I've been making some lifestyle changes that include:
- Drinking more hydrating fluids, such as water. Otherwise, the skin can get very dry.
- Eating a diet that focuses on produce, legumes, fatty fish and nuts.
- Avoiding the need to scratch the skin, which can cause bleeding and sores. Having an open wound – no matter how small – puts you at risk for infection.
- Lowering stress levels.
- Being aware of skin irritants in soap, antiperspirants and perfume. I personally have had to change the type of laundry detergent and dryer sheets I buy. I now look for products that are specially formulated for sensitive skin since I noticed my skin was getting irritated. These new products seem to have made a big difference.
- Avoiding taking frequent hot baths and showers since these can dry your skin.
- Using moisturizers frequently. They don’t have to be expensive; in fact, I’ve heard of women who use olive oil or coconut oil on their skins. I personally was seeking good moisturizers for face and skin since some of the commercial products I’ve used have not worked as well since I’ve gone through the menopausal transition. It took a bit, but I finally found a body balm that works well for me. Created by a massage therapist, the balm includes shea butter, coconut oil, essential oils and vitamin E oil. While it can be a little greasy, this product also reduces my skin’s dryness.
Other lifestyle changes recommended by the National Institute on Aging include using a humidifier to counteract dry air and stopping smoking.
Going through menopause and reaching middle age provide you with a chance to revisit your health as well as your skin routine. The changes in your skin texture and tone may throw you, but by serving as your own detective, you can find the right regimen that protects your skin’s health.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Howard, D. (ND.). How does menopause affect the skin? The International Dermal Institute.
Mayo Clinic.(2011). Foods for healthy skin: top picks.
National Institutes on Aging. (2013). Skin care and aging.
Skin Cancer Foundation. (ND.). Actinic keratosis (AK).
Published On: January 20, 2014